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2021 Penn State Nittany Lions: Trying to Return to the Top
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

2021 Penn State Nittany Lions: Trying to Return to the Top

There seems to always be some sort of controversy regarding Head Coach James Franklin. He’s won over two-thirds of the games he’s coached in State College but people expect more and maybe this year he has enough talent to get over the hump. The Lions have to get the maximum out of the QB, find a running game, and shore up a defense that only forced 9 turnovers and registered 21 sacks. There seems to be enough talent on defense but the QB position is far from settled. There is the momentum from how Penn State finished up 2020 by winning their final four games after losing their first 5 and the Lions are looking to build on that.

Offense: In the offseason Penn State hired Mike Yurcich as their new offensive coordinator. He has an impressive resume with his two most recent stops at Oklahoma State and last year at Texas where the Longhorns averaged 42.7 points per game and 475 yards per game. His first and most important task will be improving QB Sean Clifford’s decision-making and instilling confidence in the 3rd year signal caller. He made strides in the last four games (all wins) and with Yurcich”s guidance hopefully he can rise above his past. He has reliable WR Jahan Datson who has caught a pass in 29 consecutive games. He has 26 receptions of over 20 yards and has scored 13 touchdowns. A big addition to the offense might be speedy running back John Lovett a transfer from Baylor who has started 20 games with over 1,800 yards gained. The offensive line returns three starters including possible first rounder Rasheed Walker at tackle. There is reason for optimism.

Defense: Penn State has always been known for their physical defense and there is room for improvement on this side of the ball. The linebacking position seems to be solid and that is part of the Penn State tradition. The Lions added three transfers which should help immediately. Arnold Ebiketie from Temple was everywhere in the spring and could be a star at DE. The secondary is deep and talented and could be the strength of the defense.

Non-Conference Schedule:

9/11 Ball State

9/18 Auburn

9/25 Villanove

The non-com schedule features two must wins against Ball State and Villanova. The game against Auburn will be a good early test and show the Lions where they are. If they can beat the Tigers and go 3-0 they can be on their way to a 10 win season.

Conference Schedule:

9/4 at Wisconsin

10/2 Indiana

10/9 at Iowa

10/23 Illinois

10/30 at Ohio State

11/6 at Maryland

11/13 Michigan

11/20 Rutgers

11/27 at Michigan State

The conference schedule starts off with a critical game at Wisconsin. If the Lions win that game they could be on their way to a great year. There are very winnable games at Maryland and Michigan State. The game at Iowa will be a nail-biter and on Oct. 30th at Ohio State might be for a division title. The home schedule includes must wins against Illinois and Rutgers and winnable games with Indiana and Michigan.

Summary: If things break right, Penn State could compete for the East Division title. The offense has to improve and be consistent with good QB play. Road games at Wisconsin and Iowa are crucial and they must win all 4 conference home games. If that happens, the game at Ohio State will be huge.

Predicted Finish: 2nd Place in the East Division

Overall Record: 9-3

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